By Mark Gutglueck
In the unincorporated blue collar community of Bloomington sharp differences have arisen over county officials’ approval of a warehouse project within close proximity to a school.
Project advocates and those affiliated with the county, including those making recommendations that the warehouse project be approved and those who voted to allow it to proceed, consider the addition of warehouses to be a step forward for the community. Bloomington is spread along the periphery of Fontana and Rialto, and north of the border with Riverside County, an area which was historically an agricultural one with substantial modest infill residential development. Over the last half century, what was once a largely rustic area has haphazardly absorbed what is now a jumble of commercial uses along the two major arteries though the area, the I-10 Freeway and Valley Boulevard, many of them transportation related. South of the freeway, a hodgepodge of heavier industrial uses have come to dot the landscape over the last half century, an adjunct to the long-existing rail line spanning east and west. What officials say are marginally noncompliant uses of residential properties proliferate in the area, such as half-acre residential properties being used for truck parking or storage of industrial equipment and machinery. Land values and retail tax revenue in the area is barely capable of defraying what virtually everyone acknowledges are inadequate services and infrastructure. The development fees to be paid by the warehouse builders and the increase in property value and therefore uprating in property tax revenue will assist in getting the languishing community off top dead center so that services can be enhanced and infrastructure improvements can be made to enable further development and improvements, supporters of the warehouse development maintain.
Conversely, a number of Bloomington residents and their environmental activist supporters perceive the influx of just one or two warehouses to be an invitation for three or four more and then a flood of a dozen or two dozen more thereafter. Even assuming the warehouses are used for no more than simple warehousing of goods and products from which distribution is to be staged, those uses involving a constant flow of trucks in and out of the warehouse yards, the sound pollution of their engines, the air pollution of their exhaust and both the traffic hazard and street destruction of the weighty trucks themselves are incompatible with the still substantially residential nature of Bloomington’s neighborhoods, those residents and their supporters insist. And the very real potential that some of the warehouses will house light industrial and manufacturing uses, which in time could transform into medium intensity manufacturing and industrial uses and eventually into heavy industrial concerns that will result in the full eradication of residential properties in the area represents an absolutely unacceptable course with regard to land use for Bloomington as a community, those challenging the government assert.
According to Ericka Flores, a Bloomington resident who is working in conjunction with the Jurupa Valley-based Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, “Warehouses bring large amounts of diesel truck traffic that pollute nearby communities with toxins that cause asthma, cancer, heart disease, emphysema and early death. The warehouse industry has set its sights on a new target, Bloomington. Despite broad community opposition, a warehouse project was recently approved steps away from the Walter Zimmerman Elementary playground in Bloomington. Even more warehouse projects have been proposed. Children are especially susceptible to the coming truck pollution, increasing their risks for breathing problems the more often they play outside. We in Bloomington will not accept a world where the more we breathe, the sicker we get. We will not allow our government to break the law and poison our families.”
The reference to the government is San Bernardino County, of which Bloomington is an unincorporated community. The county board of supervisors, which is in general advised with regard to zoning and development issues by the county’s land use services division and the county planning commission, is the direct governmental authority overseeing Bloomington. In San Bernardino County, the member of the board of supervisors in whose district a particular community lies is given primary sway with regard to decisions impacting that particular property. In the case of Bloomington, Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales, who was prior to her elevation to the board of supervisors in 2004 a member of the city council in neighboring Fontana, is the elected governmental official in whom overriding authority is entrusted. Directly counseling Gonzales with regard to Bloomington are the members of the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council, which is composed of Bloomington residents chosen by Gonzales for that role. The Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council members are Gary Grossich, Israel Fuentes, Jackie Cox, Betty Gosney, Eric Scott and Chairman Larry Burgos.
According to Grossich, the county’s decision to allow what he said was a “modest” number of warehouses to be built in Bloomington was based on a well-thought through analysis that included input from the council, the community at large and consideration of a previously prepared planning document, the Bloomington Community Plan. “Our reasoning is based upon the Bloomington Community Plan and supporting the wishes of the community,” Grossich told the Sentinel. “Over two years ago the county began a process to update the Bloomington Community Plan. Since then, six community outreach events have been held. During these meetings three main issues became apparent. One, Bloomington and its residents are suffering due to lack of services. Two, revenue currently generated from Bloomington doesn’t even come close to covering the current lack of services, let alone an increase. In reality we are currently being subsidized by the county for the woefully inadequate services we receive. We’re not in any financial position to expect any additional services. The only other way to generate money for increased services is a substantial tax on our residents. I can tell you it would end up being a large tax and the chances of that passing in Bloomington are slim and none. Three, development and business growth in our community is the only viable way to generate revenues to pay for services our residents need and deserve.”
The impoverished community’s financial situation is what has given rise to the decision to allow the warehouses to be built, Grossich said.
“Bloomington’s unemployment rate is 30 percent higher than the national average,” Grossich said. “Per capita income in Bloomington is only about half the national average. Only about 40 percent of Bloomington residents have even graduated from high school and only a small fraction of those have a college degree. The bottom line is we need to provide balanced development growth and job opportunities for our residents.”
Grossich said those opposed to warehouse development represent a minority of the residents in Bloomington and that they are outnumbered by others who look favorably upon the initial incremental steps toward community development. He said bringing in warehouse projects approved under terms and standards laid down by the county’s land use services division represents a bulwark against the continuing proliferation of non-compliant hazardous operations that have already invaded Bloomington’s residential neighborhoods.
“Documents from the Bloomington Community Plan meetings which were used to create a list of services our residents want show 91 percent wanted more and better code enforcement, especially regarding the illegal trucking operations which are taking over residential neighborhoods and operating near schools,” Grossich said. “57 percent want a dedicated full time sheriff’s deputy to improve our public safety. 53 percent want dedicated truck routes to protect our schools and residential neighborhoods from the negative impacts of illegal trucking. Our residents also asked for increased area of sewer service; along with infrastructure improvements and better road maintenance. During this process one of the things the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council has demanded is that all development impact fees from any new projects be set aside in a separate fund to remain in Bloomington to pay for additional services over and above what we currently receive.”
Grossich continued, “Bloomington is being subsidized, even for the low level of services we currently receive. Total revenues in Bloomington are only $2.2 million a year, including what the county puts in the pot. Grand Terrace is half the size with half the land and they’re barely making ends meet with revenues of $4.5 million, more than twice what we get. As with all cities, Grand Terrace has a blend of residential, commercial and industrial uses. In any city the commercial and industrial uses bring in by far the most revenue and subsidize residential areas which cost more to service than the revenue residential uses generate. All healthy cities have a balance of commercial, residential and industrial uses. Typically most cities have about 20-30 percent commercial, 50-60 percent residential and 20-25 percent industrial. In Colton 23.9 percent of the city is zoned industrial. Bloomington currently is zoned for less than 12 percent industrial. I believe we have less than six warehouses in the entire community.”
Grossich said, “Increasing the industrial component in appropriate areas of least impact to the community will increase revenues to help pay for additional services, increase investment by providing infrastructure improvements and create much needed job opportunities for our residents. For these reasons the Bloomington Municipal Advisory Council is in unanimous support of the only warehouse currently under consideration in Bloomington. This project is called the Bloomington Business Center and is located on Slover Avenue along the I-10 Freeway on a heavily traveled industrial corridor directly across the street from another warehouse and close to the Union Pacific Railroad yard. In fact the next parcel to the west is already zoned industrial and an industrial operation would be permitted by right to be built there. It makes perfect sense to place these types of operations on existing truck routes along with other properties which are already zoned for industrial use.”
Advocates against the warehouses maintain it is not accurate to suggest that plans and measures to assure that the warehouses and the heavy vehicles that will assuredly accompany them and the industrial uses that may be attached to them will be adequately separated or “buffered” from both homes and schools in Bloomington. They point out that a 34-acre logistics warehouse to be located 260 feet from Walter Zimmerman Elementary School was approved by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission and then by the board of supervisors. There was doubt about the wisdom of the undertaking, these critics point out. The board of supervisors narrowly approved the project by a 3-2 vote. That betokens a less than sterling assurance the warehouse was properly sited, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice maintains.
According to the environmental impact report submitted by the project’s developer, Western Realco, the warehouse itself will not exceed the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s threshold for significant pollution. But parents of students from Zimmerman Elementary say that the emissions from the fork lift trucks and other vehicles and activities within the building are not the sole problem. They enumerated concerns over truck traffic to and from the warehouse, the fumes from those trucks, many of which are anticipated to be powered by diesel engines. Moreover, the hazards of having large trucks negotiating the streets where children are walking to and from school give those parents pause.
Public health surveys and scientific studies into the impact of vehicle exhaust on the health of children demonstrate that juveniles who live close to heavy traffic or are otherwise exposed to particulates from heavy trucks have more serious health problems, including asthma, statistically than do youths who are not so exposed.
Parents and activists with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice assert that the environmental impact report for the Western Realco warehouse project was biased and inadequate.
Grossich said, “As with all projects this development has been going through a rigorous environmental impact report which is available on line. In speaking with the developer after their presentations, I’ve been impressed with the extra efforts they’ve made to minimize or eliminate any potential negative impacts to the four homes on the back side of the project. The developer has a large setback on the rear and all truck docks will be on the front side of the building, keeping them as far away as possible from the four houses. In reading through the environmental impact report, I also noted that there is a 1,000 foot-plus buffer between where the trucks dock and Bloomington High School; the trucks can only enter or exit the site from the front on Slover Ave; the trucks are restricted from traveling past Bloomington High School and can only travel east or west on Slover, and trucks will not be allowed to idle while on the property. There are many other requirements under the environmental impact report and the conditional use permit process, but I wanted to point out the ones which address the concerns that have been brought up. With this, I think it’s important to note that there are several illegal diesel trucking operations less than 1,000 feet from Bloomington High School, including a couple right on the high school property line.”
Though the Bloomington residents opposed to the warehouse project, concerned parents of students at Walter Zimmerman Elementary and activists with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice reiterated their belief that the environmental impact report was inadequate, they acknowledged that there was little if any prospect of overturning the project approval. The prevailing attitude is that action needs to be taken going forward that will prevent other warehouse projects from being approved.
The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice said it is committed to changing the political and social landscape of the Inland Valley and to focus on those most affected by environmental health hazards, low-income communities of color and recent immigrants who live, work, learn and play closest to rail yards, industrial areas, toxic waste facilities, intermodal facilities, freeways and other areas at greatest risk for environmental health hazards.
Flores said, “We’re holding community meetings, we’re giving testimony to our representatives, we’re telling the press about this injustice. We’re standing up for our rights, and while there is more hard work ahead, our efforts are paying off. Our story is getting out there. When a city council member came to our community meeting with warehouse industry lies, attempting to convince us that our lungs didn’t matter as much as we thought, he was booed. Now we’re working to get the Colton Joint Unified School Board to agree to stand with us in opposition to school-adjacent warehouses that will make our children sick. We will not stop fighting until we win. We will not stop until our children are safe and the future health of Bloomington is secure.”
That clashed with Grossich’s vision, which is that Bloomington will benefit from more warehouses. “We are looking forward to projects like this bringing in jobs for local residents that desperately want work, while increasing our tax revenues and implementing dedicated developer fees to pay for much needed public safety and other services, along with providing needed infrastructure improvements in our community,” Grossich said. “We’re hopeful that these projects will provide an economic spur and the development community will start looking at Bloomington as an attractive area for residential and commercial development, as well, so our residents can have the services that we deserve and surrounding cities already have.”
By Mark Gutglueck